Sunday, January 20, 2013

flagging or fanatic Catholic?

To the worlds standards, I had become somewhat of a fanatical Catholic.  My faith influenced what I wore, ate, drank, who I hung out with, what music I listened to, how I spent my free time and what I taught my children. More and more over the years I felt a chasm between my lifestyle and that of most other Americans.  I am a convert to Catholicism and so the very extreme differences in how Catholics live is very obvious and divisive when it comes to gathering with my family.  Even on my husbands side, his mom, dad, sisters and brother are Catholic, but none of them devoted themselves to living out the official teachings of the Church like us.

On one hand I was out of touch with most of society, and on the other, I felt like a flagging Catholic.  It seemed I could never pray enough, love enough, sacrifice enough, be humble enough, be joyful enough and so to actually live in that peace which surpasses all understanding.  Towards the end, my life of Catholicism felt like a war for reality. On one hand, I knew I was a wonderful person, imperfect yes, but doing well.  On the other, I felt guilty and selfish and unholy.

Many people who are ardently Catholic will say that God loves us unconditionally and that we are just trying to purify ourselves from our sinfulness.  And I do believe that is the teaching of the Church. But, there is the reality of the constant examinations of conscience, the penance, the prayers, the pondering on the holiness of Christ and our personal unworthiness.

For me, the dichotomy between these two extremes became overwhelming.  It's like a perpetual cycle of pride and humiliation, each feeding into the negativity of the other.

*Update* The politics issue was just the last straw of many things, I did not make this choice because of politics.  I see my comments below are confusing.  It was just the final thing. I will try to give a better picture in a new post. 

What finally spit me out of the loop was when my perspective on politics changed and I was standing in contrast against what most Christians and Catholics believe is the moral decision in this country when it comes to politics.  I became a libertarian.  For me, my conscience could be completely clear as a Catholic and promote libertarianism.  I could see the evil in American Republican mainstream politics. I could see the deception and lies.  But when I tried to bring these thoughts up with Catholics, often I would get a mind numbing look that what I was saying did not compute. And, what's more, they did not CARE to even consider it. They were happy in their world view and it fit.  They were content to not consider it.

I saw Church leaders supportive of either major political party, but none supported a third party. This for me became a final straw that lead to my decision.   How could I devote so much time and energy to trying to live  for Christ the way that the Church teaches when it seems that they could not offer another option to the mainstream dilemma? For me, this was a very big deal because my husband is a Army Officer who has deployed twice to Iraq. I have seen first hand the suffering of military families.  I have seen the insane waste of military budgets.  As a Catholic, all life to me is precious, but most seem to be blinded by Abortion to not consider the overwhelming damage made by illegal war.  I disagree with abortion and I disagree with murdering and destroying innocent lives through military might.


Christine Dalessio said...

I am so sorry that you have had such a frustrating and negative experience in your journey as a Catholic. I know that there can be a huge difference between the way some people choose to live their faith and the way we can feel never good enough. Many of my convert friends have expressed a disillusionment once they joined Catholicism because before they joined they thought the Church was somehow above reproach.
I am also really surprised that you experienced such strong political views from Church leadership. While I know there are vital issues for Catholics regarding life, I also know that leadership is very careful to remain apolitical...

But most of all I wonder if all along you just have not been able to find the right kind of support for you. Perhaps your particular parish or group of friends have adopted very narrow views that may have led you to feel pressured to have a specific spirituality.
Having been Catholic all my life, I have to say that I have not felt pressures like you did to dress a certain way, be constantly aware of sin and conscience, etc.

Before you decide you have had enough, before you walk away... I wonder if you have had an opportunity to consider what drew you to conversion in the first place, if you have looked for other support even online, or tried other parishes to find a home that fits your heart best.
No matter what your decision, I truly hope that you find peace and Truth. And I am so sorry on behalf of my fellow Catholics for any way you have been made to experience an overscrupulous zeal, or a lack of love, people closed to dialog or a misunderstanding of what being Catholic really is.
We cannot ignore the longing of the human heart. I have found so many answers to correspond to this longing in the sacramental life of the Church. I hope you find your answers soon and with hope.

-Kinsi- said...

Hello, just dropping by as I saw a comment of yours on a WIWS post.

I will be praying for your intentions: for peace of heart, for encouragement, for the answers that you need.

The constant struggle for perfection- is it hopeless? Maybe in some ways. I think this is something that my husband occasionally wrestles with as well. At least, he is very hard on himself. I have not often felt frustrated by this myself- but I simply think it's because unlike my hubby, it's in my nature to not only make note of the bad I do or see, but the good I do or see. Maybe this is a struggle for certain temperaments more than others?

I worry that politics being the last straw almost places politics in a position above the faith? Indeed, you are right to be annoyed by blatant support of either party- both have their faults when seen through a Catholic lens. But as Christine said, the Church is supposed to be apolitical. Is it the fault of the Church that people say these things, or their fault as people?

Here's what it all comes down to for me, day-to-day, when I wake up and decide to live another day as an authentic Catholic: did the offenses incurred on me happen because of the Church, or because of faulty human beings? So far, faulty human nature is winning by a laughably large margin.

Good luck to you!

ashleyjeanlavana said...

Hello, thank you for your comments! It's good to hear others perspective. I know that it may seem weird that politics is what eventually broke it for me, but that literally was the last straw. It wasn't the biggest.

Really I think a thousand things could have been the last straw, that just happened to be it.

I do wonder if the type of Catholic I became was the problem, but this is a BIG current in America right now. The Franciscan University type.The EWTN type. Ultraconservative. I honestly probably wouldn't be Catholic if that is not the version I had been introduced to.

Kinsi, you are right. For me the Church did seem like a beautiful Divinely ordered reality. Once I became Catholic, I found the reality of it a much messier thing. SO I set out to teach Catholics the beauty of what I had come to know.

I will try to post more soon.

Thank you again.

ashleyjeanlavana said...

This is an interesting video I just found.
I still didn't hear any mention of possibly being anything other than conservative or liberal.

That is why I became libertarian. I could put all of my Catholic Values under it, where as with the others, I couldn't. Not only that, like the priest says, they liars.

Leila@LittleCatholicBubble said...

Hi Ashley! I don't do too much on other folks' blogs (no time, ack!), but if you want to go to my blog to talk, I have written this:

Two things strike me as I read your blog. First, I wonder if you might suffer from scrupulosity? That is a very painful, really excruciating thing:

Also, I know faithful Catholics who are libertarian, and it's not a big issue at least in my "bubble" of folks here. In fact, I have often criticized the idiocy and weakness of the hapless Republicans (both on my blog and my facebook; and in real life). The Church transcends any political party, and I can't think of any Catholic I know who is happy with the Republicans. I know I'm not. However, I vote for them instead of third party candidates for practical reasons.

The only thing you need to remember about being a Catholic in the public square is the non-negotiables:

Please don't allow earthly American politics (and what other people think about you) influence your love for or adherence to the universal Church that the Lord founded for you and all. That would be a tragedy.

When Jesus, in John chapter 6, told the disciples repeatedly that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood (the Eucharist), many left him in confusion or disgust. He asked Peter simply: "Will you, too, go away?" Peter was bewildered by Christ's earlier words, but responded with the beautiful truth: "To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words to eternal life."

Also, I just now noticed your "about me" and I see that you became an atheist quite a bit ago. That is more than just leaving the Church because of politics, which is what I thought you had done originally. I imagine it must be very hard on your family (husband, children) to have this complete change in their wife/mom. I will pray for them and you, and I am very sorry.

ashleyjeanlavana said...

To Leila,

Thanks for stopping by. I realized that I made a typo in the about me. It should have said Oct 2012 not 2011. I am glad you said something. I will look at your links. Thanks again.

Anne Marie said...

Dear Ashley,
I read your post on Leila's blog. I, too, am so sorry you have these feelings of the Catholic Church. I know it is frustrating to see all the craziness about and not get discouraged or even worse to totally lose your faith! Even so, Christ did warn “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Me” (Matt. 11:6). He calls you back to the fold!
I will add you to my prayer intentions.

priest's wife said...

I really am sad that you are going through this- and I agree with Christine's comment.

The 'mystery' of all of this is that God doesn't 'need' believers to be God- He would have died just for you

It is true that 'bad' Christians give Jesus a bad name (I believe Gandhi said he would have become Christian except that there were only hypocrites who were Christian- this is true- Christianity doesn't make us perfect)

Abigail said...

I'm an adult convert to Catholicism and a Third Order Carmelite. I'm praying for you.

Abigail said...

Hang in there. Our faith journey is neatly ordered stair steps to heaven Our faith journey is sometimes very messy. There are experience that the Carmelites call "in the desert."

I hit a really bad patch after my fifth child was born this summer. Everything just sucked for a long time. It's shocking to me that God put everything back in order for me--quickly. My marriage is stronger, my faith is stronger. But there were some very dark & painful times.

I'd just encourage you to stay open, keep talking and keep PRAYING. Choose one really wise friend--even a blog friend like Leila--talk to her in private ask for her prayers. Talk to your husband, ask for his prayers. Hopefully, there is a priest that you still trust. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed, talk to him. Or go to confession where you don't know the priest, sit behind the private wall and open your heart out to God.

God gets you! He's not going to bite you. These are not new feelings that you have in your soul that haven't been felt before by others (some of them now Saints) in the 2,000 years of Catholic History.

Catholic Grammie said...

Ashley, I left you an answer on Leila's blog @

I do hope you see what I wrote. Praying for you!

Sharon said...

Hi Ashley, I saw your comments on Leila's page and made a comment myself, but that was before I read your page. The part that really jumps out at me is this:

I do believe that is the teaching of the Church. But, there is the reality of the constant examinations of conscience, the penance, the prayers, the pondering on the holiness of Christ and our personal unworthiness.

For me, the dichotomy between these two extremes became overwhelming. It's like a perpetual cycle of pride and humiliation, each feeding into the negativity of the other.

Oh, do I know how you feel! That "perpetual cycle of pride and humiliation" - been there! We do well and start to feel smug, which causes us to feel guilty, which gives us a chance to think of the reason we're not better than anyone else at all, and maybe we start to feel that really, we're worse. A couple of thoughts on that. One is, maybe you could take time off and just stop the focus on what you're doing right and wrong. Instead, just focus on what Jesus does right. Take a break and only have one prayer - a young sister I know had a Facebook message that said, "If the only prayer you've ever said is "\'thank you,' it's enough." So true - there is an awful lot behind a heartfelt thanks to God.

Another thought is, Our Lord told St. Faustina that she had given him almost everything, but there was one more gift he wanted. He wanted her to give him her faults and failings because they were the only things that were truly her own. That is so true, and knowing Jesus WANTS those things makes it easy to offer them and ask for help just forgetting about them.

And finally, have you made the Total Consecration? I find that so encouraging because we give everything to Mary so she can clean up the self-interest involved in all of our gifts. We can give her everything, then forget about what is not perfect.

I don't know if any of that will help or not. I have also been subjected to temptations to just walk away from the faith, thinking life would be so much easier. That's Satan, though, and for that I'll give you one more little saying - If Satan knocks at the door, send Jesus to answer it! :) Praying for you & your family.

ashleyjeanlavana said...

Not sure if you will come back. Sorry it took me so long to reply here. Yes, I have done the total consecration. I kind of get sad at the comment about St. Fuastina and faults being the only things that are truly her own. Do you see how to me that is the kind of thought pattern that I think is kind of sick in Catholicism. The only thing you can feel that is yours is your fault?? What? I just think that is degrading.

Thanks for commenting.

Christine Dalessio said...

I saw this thread and just wanted to jump in... While this attitude may be expressed by SOME Catholics, this does not truly touch the breadth of Catholic teaching.

If you have decided to walk away from the specific spirituality which you embraced within Catholicism, I understand. But these comments about Faustina are also a very specific spirituality.

Catholic is so much bigger, so much more about the beauty of the human person, about becoming the best version of ourselves, and about a community of love that exists in all places and times... it is a love story between God and His people. Again, I am sorry that the spirituality you were surrounded by within the Church was problematic! But I want to say with real conviction that those are personal devotional persuasions, and not the heart of Catholicicm.

I continue to pray for your peace of mind.

Rebekah Es said...

I don't have time to read all you have written, and I can see you have a post about prayer, which I also didn't read, so you may have addressed what I have to say there. I believe your struggle is real and that your faith was real and now your lack is real, but you are still actively pursuing an openness. I have had times of spiritual goneness in my life, and what it always comes down to is that the Father is real. He is real. All reality is based on that. He whom you once called out to, He heard you, because He is real. It was not an emptiness into which you poured your heart, it was into His keeping.

ashleyjeanlavana said...

Thanks for your comments.

Christine, Thanks. I understand what you are saying. It's just hard for me because I know that the Church embraces this kind of spirituality. But, I also know that there are so many types of Catholics.. That is also a bit frustrating. I understand different charisms, but beliefs is challenging.


Would you mind going into why you believe this? Has there been anything in particular that just made it clear to you? I always believed this, but I have just taken the time to ask "what if I am wrong."


Christine Dalessio said...

I think it comes down to "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity."

I think in this post-liberal world, in every single religion, you will find people who do not believe something their religion teaches. And so we all find ourselves in a position to be more humble, to accept that the people around us falter as much as we do, and to have faith that the teachings of the Church are truth for us to live the best we can.
Peace in all you seek.

Anonymous said...

This is Sharon, your blog won't let me reply using Aim. Ashley, just saw your response to my comment. I simply do not see St. Faustina's comment the way you do! I do not find it degrading at all! It can depend on where you're coming from. I had a hard time in college reading bits of St. John of the Cross and I found him very harsh. Fortunately I read that we should not focus on things that are "too sublime" for us, which I interpreted to mean, if it's not for you at this time in your life, skip it! I don't like reading saints who talk about how terrible they are, so I can skip that if I like. There is always St. Terese, who I think is so delightful in her attitude, that if she ever sinned she would just want to run to Jesus and say she was sorry and know that he would forgive her - she says it way better. I won't even try to sum it up. Based on your background I imagine you've read at least one book by or about her.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

So imagine your an educated person at the turn of the last century. Imagine you come across a computer laying on the beach. Would you actually think it was random?
Or would you immediately KNOW it was created by something or someone.
How do,we explain human beings without God. We are complex integrated systems. Look this really all random? Isn't it obvious there is a designer? Even if we disagree about the designer it surely is not random.
Ashley you are obviously a wonderful person...but the reality is that you never really knew directly the limitless love of God. Religion that is not rooted in deep personal experience of Gods love it is what you describe.
So just ask God...God if you exist reveal yourself in such a way that I cannot deny your reality and love.
I dare you...Do it for a month. The worst that can happen is you are just playing a game. But if there is a God can God not be revealed?

ajl said...

Hi there, thank you for your comment. I hear you that the world definitely "feels" designed. That is why people throughout the ages have thought there was a god or gods doing everything. It takes a hard look at reality to actually see WHY this is. We are agents (doers) so when we see something done we think "WHO" did this?? Instead of what. But we now that there are many things that DO many things without actually having a mind. For example, water makes rivers which cut out canyons and form glaciers which form hills and valleys. Magma under the earth crust bubble up and make volcanoes and earthquakes. These things are not thinking creatures, but reacting objects that make BIG consequences, especially over millions of years.

Evolution is the amazing reality that complex things can come from very simple things. It seems crazy at first until we are able to see that it is actually scientifically PROVABLE. We can see it happening all the time. Just because we humans are DOERS, it doesn't mean that everything that is done is done by a person (natural or supernatural).

As far as the deep personal relationship. I Lived it. I can still experience a feeling of "God's Love" because I became so intimately united and identified with "Jesus" for 20 years. I just put an "about me" page at the top. In it I describe that letting go of that "personal relationship" was the last thing did on the road to abandoned faith.

I continuously ask that if there is a God that he make himself real to me, again. But, this time I am not going to take leaps of faith. I am not going to assume that certain things are God that can be easily explained by reality. If God is real and loving, I expect him to make himself known to me PERSONALLY in a way that cannot be denied. If he doesn't than I don't think it is very loving for an all knowing God to hide himself from his finite creatures and make them "figure it out" for themselves.

The truth is that if I have TOOOO much respect for the concept of love and compassion that I can no longer accept that a loving God could allow the amount of suffering and misery in this world. Whether it is starving kids in africa, burn victims, torture victims, abandoned children, rape victims, the list goes on. There is too much needless extreme suffering for me to believe that ANY one GOOD could allow that to happen. I have to believe instead, and it actually makes so much more sense, that this is a harsh world in the middle of space. It is a planet of chances and consequences that no one person is responsible for. We all do our best to live as we can (hopefully) to help others and keep it as wonderful as it is for as long as possible.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

You say complex things come from simple things.
But you avoid the real question...where did it all come from? Where did it ALL begin?
Do you seriously believe that there was a "primordial stew" that evolved more and more complicated systems over time?
That little simple organisms and matter became people, universes, star systems? So where did it all begin? Notice how your scientific mind avoids the question ENTIRELY. At least an agnostic says "I do not know."
Then why do things like our homes and vehicles disintegrate over time if left uncared for and untended? Shouldn't they become more complex over time according to your theory?
It is actually wishful thinking to say that this highly complex world came from nothing. That takes REAL FAITH.
Even Einstein believed there was God. Seems like a pretty bright scientist to me.
I say this respectfully.
You see love is not an idea. It is the basis of all existence. It is who we are.
Why is there suffering you ask?
Look at the Cross. Look close. Love suffers with us. Love takes suffering and transform it.
Look in your children's love them don't you? You love because you were designed to love.
When they are sick you suffer with them.
You are more like Jesus than you know.
God IS LOVE...1Jn4:16
It is the very air we breathe...the reality from which we came. LOVE.

ajl said...

As far as where everything comes from, I don't avoid it at all. No one knows, at this point. But just because we don't know doesn't mean we get to start making stuff up to fill in the gaps. As far as evolution, it is scientifically proven. If you really want to debate it, I suggest learning science. I am over debating. I can give you my perspective, and if you want to research, please do. I have researched. I spent 20 years researching stories we come up with to ease our mind that have no evidence. One thing I will say about the cars and home example. the breaking down of certain things into other things is part of the process of evolution. Evolution take millions and billions of years to occur to the point we are now.

As far as Einstein, his believed in God was minimal or pantheistic at best.

To say I am an atheist is to say that I really don't believe that there is a God. I am not saying that I know absolutely that there is not one, but that from my knowledge and experience at this point I do not have the ability to believe it is true unless I deny all of my doubts and have blind faith.

Love and children and community are real and beautiful. Science can explain love. We don't need something supernatural to grasp this.

Have you ever watched any Christopher Hitchens or James Randy? They are so good and dismantling the supernatural.

I heard Hitchens say in a video on youtube about how afterlife could be so many different things. God could be so many different things. I don't remember everything that he said exactly but something to the point of... Why a God? Why not a bunch of Gods? Why not we are just a science experiment by a God in middle school? What about Hindus God's or mormon gods or whatever. Just because something "feels" right to you doesn't make it true.

I think living in the concept of love is great. But, let's not make stuff up.

ajl said...

By the way, I would bet money that we are related. Am I right?

Anonymous said...

Have you heard of the historical critical method?
It is how we judge whether the history we know is true. It is a secular method.
Using this method there is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than evidence that Napoleon was a real person.
Read...Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell.
Think it through...Who is Jesus...really?
He is Risen Ashley.
And if you ask Him he will reveal it to you...You are like Thomas...but look what happened to him!
Jesus is not a story, a myth, or a religious idea.
He is life and love itself.
No we are not related.
And yes I understand where you are coming from.
But I know he will reveal himself to you in a new way...if you humbly ask.
Is the conversion of St Paul a myth?
Not a chance...he had an encounter with the supernatural presence of Jesus.
And so will you.

ajl said...

What is different about the conviction of what you are saying and those of muslim extremists? They are absolutely certain in Allah and paradise. They have no more evidence than you do, but they will die for it and kill others.

No, I will not accept anything based on intimidation or fear. Until we as a species demand reality to be respected, all forms of supernatural manipulation will continue to populate this world.

You should youtube some muslim videos and see with what conviction these people speak. based on feelings alone... scriptures alone... you can not find truth. truth takes evidence. reality

Yes, the story of Paul is a myth!!!!! yes, when has anything like that ever happened in reality as you know besides in your imagination? I have begged God to do something undeniable like that in my life. Nothing. I will not make these leaps of faith anymore. These things lead to mental instability and believing fairy tales. Live in the real world...

Thank you for sharing with me...

Anonymous said...

You may be interested in the Catholic Worker Movement. They have radical faith and believe that no man should have control over another person because God has the final authority. Many of them are libertarians or anarchists.

I am in a very similar boat. While I am isolated because of my beliefs, I am actually living the Gospel. It is incredibly challenging because I want my life to be easy and numbing so that I can fit in, but God is the only one who knows me 100%. So it is a daily struggle and doesn't help that I am incredibly extroverted. I will pray for you.

Anonymous said...

AJL: "Do you see how to me that is the kind of thought pattern that I think is kind of sick in Catholicism. The only thing you can feel that is yours is your fault?? What? I just think that is degrading. "

Cory: Is the truth then degrading because that is the truth.

We have nothing that God has not given us except our sins. God created us. All the good things we received, we received from God. That only thing that is truly ours is our sin and that is the truth.

But the even greater truth is that God is asking us to surrender all that to Him that He may heal us and make us whole.